Survey: trusted users pose significant security threats

Majority of internal employees that pose a significant threat to network security are well-meaning, innocent offenders

It probably doesn't give security managers much comfort to hear that the majority of internal employees that pose a significant threat to network security are well-meaning, innocent offenders -- as opposed to those with malice on the mind.

But the results of a recent man-on-the-street survey of 126 people conducted by RSA in November and released Monday show that despite security managers best efforts, 35% of people polled said they need to work around their organization's security policies to get their job done. According to RSA, "These innocent insiders can unwittingly create data exposures of extraordinary scope and cost through their ordinary, everyday behavior, whether through carelessness, working around security measures or following inadequate security policies."

Specifically, some 63% of those surveyed said they frequently or sometimes send work documents to a personal e-mail account to more easily access the files from home. Others rely on remote access capabilities, such as VPNs or Web mail for 87% of people polled, to work from home.

Some mobile workers also put the company at risk when they access their work e-mail via a public wireless hotspot, for instance. According to RSA's survey, about 56% of respondents said they do just that and another 52% gain access via a public computer in an Internet cafe or at the airport. But RSA says often authentication beyond user name and password is needed to secure corporate data.

"Organizations must understand the types of information their employees and other insiders need to access, determine the sensitivity of that information and then protect it with security measures commensurate with the associated risk," said Sam Curry, vice president of product management and marketing at RSA, in a statement.

Close to two-thirds of respondents reported they frequently leave their workplace with a mobile device such as a laptop and 8% reported having lost such a device bearing corporate information -- leaving their organization susceptible to data loss.

Other innocent insiders simply trust their fellow human beings. In the survey, 34% reported having held a door open for someone they did not recognize. Forty percent reported being on the receiving end of such hospitality when they had forgotten their key card or access code. In addition, about 20% of the respondents who said their company provides wireless access (66%) said there are no security credentials required to gain access to the network.

As for data and application-level security, one-third of respondents reported that they have changed jobs internally and still maintain the same set of access rights. Close to one-fourth of respondents said they have "stumbled into an area of their corporate network to which they believe they should not have had access." The results prove that creating policies is not enough; security managers need to ensure insider behavior aligns with corporate security standards, RSA says.

"It is not enough to establish policy; actual insider behavior must be measured and tracked against established policy in order to keep security aligned with the business," said Christopher Young, vice president and general manager of the Identity and Access Assurance Group at RSA, in a statement.

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Denise Dubie

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